Senegal: ‘Our belongings and our best young people are being taken by the sea’ | Sojourners

Senegal: ‘Our belongings and our best young people are being taken by the sea’

Ndeye Yacine Dieng lives in Bargny, Senegal, a small town coping with the devasting effects of climate change. Oxfam and partners are helping seaside towns like Bargny adapt, survive, and advocate for government support to overcome their losses.   Credit:
Djibril Dia/Arona Wade/Oxfam

Abandoned homes line a long sandy beach in Bargny, a small town on the coast of Senegal. High waves have overwhelmed sandbags, old tires, and other makeshift barriers to fill the homes with wet sand, making them uninhabitable.

Ndeye Yacine Dieng, a mother of seven and grandmother of eight, has lived in this community since the early 1960s. 

“We had homes, mosques, and football fields here. The sea was far,” she says, as waves break on the beach and water swirls around her feet. “Now it is much closer, and we are suffering.”

Bargny is about 25 miles south of Dakar, Senegal’s capital, and just one of many seacoast communities here affected by climate-induced coastal erosion. Dieng says as many as 1,500 people need to be relocated. In the meantime, they are staying with family and friends, sometimes with more than 10 people to a room. She and other displaced families were promised land to resettle, only to have the government grant that land to a foreign company to build a coal-burning power plant. 

That power plant and new port facilities serving an emerging offshore oil and gas industry have worsened conditions for this community—further limiting the amount of land available for people who have been displaced and making it harder for fishing families to earn a decent living.

Fishing boats are prohibited from areas near the offshore oil and gas facilities, so the colorful boats now line the beach, sitting idle—as are their crew and the women who smoke and sell the fish.

“When the power plant starts, all other activity stops,” says Fatou Samba, who represents a 1,000-woman association of fish processors in and around Bargny. “This toxic activity does not go with food processing.”

With traditional ways of making a living rendered impractical, and displaced families struggling to find new homes, young people in particular face tough choices, says Dieng.

“The very young people leave. They go to Europe to look for work … they can’t withstand the poverty here,” she says, standing on the beach above the breaking waves, squinting her eyes in the late afternoon sun. “In recent years, some of them have died at sea trying to go to Europe.”

“Most of our belongings and our best young people are being taken by the sea,” she says.

The power of organizing

The people on Senegal’s coast who are affected by climate change are responsible for only a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions causing the sea level rise destroying their homes. But they must deal with all the problems. 

To assist them, Oxfam has established a network of communities affected by climate change known by its French initials RESSAC (Reseau Sénégalais des Acteurs du Climat) that is organizing citizens in areas like Bargny to advocate for their rights to live in a clean environment, access to land for families displaced by climate change, and to be consulted about major industrial infrastructure projects that will affect their lives and livelihoods.

With an eye to the future, Oxfam’s partner Teranga Lab is mobilizing young people in coastal areas to campaign for the government to help communities adapt to and survive climate change. They are raising awareness through podcasts, blogs, and videos that tell stories about how climate change is affecting communities and what their government and others can do to help affected people.

Oxfam fights inequality to end poverty and injustice

Millions of families from Senegal to Gaza to Somalia are enduring natural and man-made catastrophes. Oxfam has been by their side, providing lifesaving aid and fighting to upend the unjust systems that make them vulnerable to climate change, conflict, extreme hunger, and poverty.

  • In Gaza, we’re working with partners to distribute much-needed supplies, including food, water, and cash, to devastated families and communities.
  • In Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, and Romania, we’ve helped partners provide humanitarian assistance to more than 1 million people affected by the war.
  • In rural Vietnam, Oxfam is helping to transform the bamboo and clam industries to alleviate poverty and inequality—creating more than 4,000 jobs in the process.
  • In Uganda and Tanzania, Oxfam has worked alongside local partners to raise community concerns about the development of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline and influenced compensation negotiations for people who will be displaced.

Oxfam’s life-changing programs helped more than 15.5 million people in more than 80 countries last year. We want a life of dignity for every person in crisis and to challenge corporations, governments, and international financial institutions to do better.

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